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Small Point

Small Point
signed, titled and dated 'SMALL POINT 1969 B. Marden' (on the reverse)
oil and beeswax on canvas, in three parts
overall: 47 3/4 x 48 1/4 in. (121.3 x 122.6 cm.)
Executed in 1969
Galerie Yvon Lambert, Paris.
Gisèle and Marcel Boulois, Paris (circa 1975).
Gérard Boulois (by descent from the above).
Gagosian Gallery, New York (1996).
Private collection, Australia (1997).
Private Collection, Mexico (by 2005).
Gagosian Gallery, New York (2005).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 2005.
Paris, Yvon Lambert, Brice Marden, October 1969.
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Brice Marden, 1975, pp. 18 and 38, no. 10 (illustrated and installation view illustrated).
New York, C & M Arts, Brice Marden: Classic Paintings, March-May 1999, no. 2 (illustrated in color).
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.
Further details
This work will be included the artist’s forthcoming catalogue raisonné

Brought to you by

Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

Beginning his career during a time of artistic upheaval, Brice Marden established himself early on as an innovative force in American painting. Drawing upon the emotional urgency of Abstract Expressionism while embracing the forthright structures of the nascent Minimalism, his work in the 1960s set the stage not only for his own illustrious oeuvre but irrevocably changed the face of twentieth-century art. Small Point is a decisive example of Marden’s ability to employ the most simple forms and colors to create evocative works of art. Related to his later Elements series, the present works omits those pieces’ adjoining lintel on top and embraces a more delicate and subdued palette. The light earthen tones are reminiscent of clay, concrete, and plaster, perhaps alluding to the artist’s interest in drawing from his surroundings. In the spring and summer of 1964, he spent time in Paris where he was privy to the urban renewal prompted by André Malraux, the French Minister for Culture at that time. He later reminisced, "They were re-plastering or stuccoing a lot of the walls. And then when I got back to New York—there were paintings that I had started at Yale, and then I just sort of reworked them, and they became more field-like" (quoted in G. Garrels, ed., Plane Image: A Brice Marden Retrospective, New York, 2006, p. 15). Constantly evolving as new ideas about surface and color entered his purview, Marden’s oeuvre grew steadily in response to his daily experiences. Distilling these observations into formal compositions, the walls of Manhattan, the skies of Greece, and the Parisian boulevards all coalesced into pure color and surface.
Completed in 1969, Small Point is a large square composition made up of three vertical canvases set flush in a row. Using his signature materials of oil and wax, Marden reinvigorates the traditional methods of encaustic painters to serve his experimental needs. At first glance, the entire work is rendered in a flat, even coat. However, upon further observation, differences in color and surface begin to emerge. Across this subtle spectrum, Marden’s hand is only slightly visible where some minute markings or underpainting becomes apparent through a shift in light. Indeed, the ability of the wax in his paintings to capture and disperse light evenly gives works like Small Point an internal glow. Light and its changing effects in various locales would become pivotal throughout his career as he absorbed his surrounding and channeled them into his work. "You're really influenced by where you're painting," he has noted. "One of the biggest things is the light." (quoted in T. Loos, "A Subtle Sense of Place," The New York Times, 29 October 2006). After moving to New York City after graduate school, Marden was influenced by the concrete and brick around his first apartment downtown. One can imagine the different shades a seemingly boring wall could adopt as the seasons changed in a city so full of light and shadow.
An early example of his breakthrough monochromatic wax panels, the power of Small Point hinges upon the capture of light within each canvas individually and their combination as a trio. Not as interested in sculptural qualities as some of his contemporaries, Marden made sure to focus on the direct representation of hues and tones. “By limiting each color he employed to one canvas, Marden sought to avoid the overlaps of figure-ground relationship that might compromise the identity and space of that particular color,” explained curator Klaus Kertess, an early proponent of the artist’s career. “The color becomes totally identified with the plane of its individual support and the physicality of its paintedness. The color of each plane makes its own light and space, at once independent of and dependent upon its other planar partners. The painting is resolved and dissolved in the dynamics of a shifting symbiosis of planar identities” (Brice Marden: Paintings and Drawings, New York, 1992, p. 23). In the 1960s, Marden was fully invested in relaying the inherent materiality in his work to the viewer. Interested in ideas of physicality and working toward a more pure mode of abstraction, he nonetheless sidestepped the analytical mode of Minimalism in favor of expressive depth. The use of wax in his surfaces created a richness that softened the line between where the painting ended and the atmosphere began.
After his graduate work at Yale, where he studied in close proximity to artists like Robert Mangold and Chuck Close, Marden moved to New York City in 1963 and started a job as a guard at the Jewish Museum. Like many young artists during that time, he was working under the shadow of the prevailing Abstract Expressionist tendencies that still had a hold on the critics and art-going public. However, Marden was more struck by the compositions of Jasper Johns, whose oeuvre he came to know intimately as he worked the retrospective. It was because of Johns that he became fully enamored with encaustic, the medium which made up so many of his predecessor’s flag and number paintings and which helped the young painter to formulate ideas about the intersection of emotional depth and formal structure. Creating his own specialized mixture of encaustic and oil, Marden focused on the best way to create a fully immersive experience of color. The painter has noted that he would begin a painting by "work[ing] with some vague color idea; a memory of a space, a color presence, a color I think I have seen" (quotes in C. Andre, ed., "New in New York: Line work," Arts Magazine, vol. 41, no. 7, May 1967, p. 50). This link between half-remembered colors and creating optical experiences is especially key to a true understanding of Marden’s oeuvre as he traversed the painterly spectrum. Infusing each panel with a presence of place through color alone, works like Small Point prove Marden’s lasting effect on American painting.

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